Another Day in Poe's Kitchen at The Rattlesnake

Chef Brian Poe shows you the world in the back of the house.

Charting the Heat in Poeville Units: a few words on jalapeños and habañeros (+ recipes!)

Scoville units were developed during a 1912 experiment in which a sugar-water solution was sprayed on the tongues of chile tasters until the capsaicin—the “heat” of a pepper—could no longer be detected. The ratio of capsaicin to sugar-water determined the number of Scoville units. So, for instance, a bell pepper measures 0–300 Scoville units; a jalapeño is 10,000–15000 units; a habeñero is 100,000–300,000 units. (Here’s a good example of the Scoville Scale.)

Poeville units are what I’m developing in my own kitchen. At one end of the scale is the jalapeño, which I compare to a jog on a treadmill in a gym without air conditioning. It’s uncomfortable, but escapable; the discomfort will go away soon enough. At the other end is the habañero, which is more like a full marathon run barefoot in pure humidity on scorching asphalt. You think you might die, but you keep chasing that runner’s high anyway. 

Jalapeños hail from the city of Jalapa in the Mexican state of Veracruz. They also come from Oaxaca, Chihuahua and the border regions of the Southwest. In their smoked form, they are known as chipotles. I choose to play with these little green devils in dishes like my jalapeño clam chowder

chowder in the making

because I can control the heat level to the point that most customers can handle—just enough to make them break a tiny sweat. Bite into a jalapeño and you’ll get a hint of green bell pepper at first, with the heat cranking up slowly. Take a spoonful of the chowder, and the creamy comfort of the clams and potatoes will keep you in New England until the last minute, when that last little jolt reminds you that you are really in Poe’s Kitchen—the no man’s land between New England and Latin America!

For chowder eaters who can take a little more pain, we make jalapeño powder by slicing the peppers and dehydrating them overnight.

dehydrating jalapenos

Then we puree the dried, super-concentrated pods into a powder and sprinkle it sparingly over the fried clams that accompany the chowder just before serving.   

IMG00038-20090822-1436

As regulars develop a tolerance and come in search of even hotter dishes, I treat them to the more tropical but meaner habañero (meaning “from Havana”). It is one of the hottest of any of the chiles grown in Central America and the Caribbean. In fact, it’s 50 times hotter than the jalapeño and should be handled with gloves, because it can even irritate the skin. Because it has citrus undertones, we pair it with Mexican shrimp, which we marinate with cilantro in Narragansett beer, then top off with a straightforward habañero puree. (Check out the gallery for a glimpse.) This dish comes with a warning label, two more warnings from the server and an advisory beer or three for the brave souls willing to jump into the firepit! After taking that leap, one guest of mine paced in front of the restaurant for 20 minutes, cursing me and the peppers too. But when I went to check on him, he laughed and said, “It just tasted so good I couldn’t stop eating it!”     

Here are the recipes for both the powder and the puree. Use them wisely! By the way, one of my all-time favorite reference books on chile peppers is The Great Chile Book by Southwestern cuisine pioneer Mark Miller.  The book can be viewed in its entirety here.

 

Jalapeño Powder

15 jalapeños yield about 1/2 c.

Destem peppers and cut in half lengthwise.  Place in a Ronco-style dehydrator for one day, rotating the bottom tray to the top every 2 hours until all jalapeños are dried. Place in a blender or spice grinder and puree until a fine powder is formed. Can be stored indefinitely.

If you do not have a dehydrator, place the jalapeños on a cookie sheet atop a baking rack. Set oven at lowest possible temperature and place tin the oven. Check every hour until peppers are dried. In convection ovens, this can happen in about 2 hours. In others, it can take 5 hours. Just keep checking!

 

Habañero-Citrus Puree

Yields 2 cups or about 20 servings

1/2 c. orange and red habaneros
1 c. high-quality extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 2 limes
1/4 c. rice wine vinegar

Destem the peppers and halve them lengthwise; whether you remove the seeds depends on your taste for danger! Combine all ingredients and puree in a blender. Refrigerate until needed; it can keep about as long as your average condiment.

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